Neil Lennon: ‘Dermot Desmond’s legacy will forever be enshrined in Celtic’s history’

Manager believes it should be acknowledged that Irish billionaire is first and foremost fan of club
Celtic manager Neil Lennon (left) regularly speaks to Celtic's largest shareholder  Dermot DesmondCeltic manager Neil Lennon (left) regularly speaks to Celtic's largest shareholder  Dermot Desmond
Celtic manager Neil Lennon (left) regularly speaks to Celtic's largest shareholder Dermot Desmond

A kingmaker lauding the employee upon whom he has bestowed the most important responsibilities in his footballing fiefdom is hardly to be unexpected. Likewise when said employee extols the virtues of said kingmaker.

Yet the mutual appreciation society that exists between Celtic’s largest shareholder Dermot Desmond and manager Neil Lennon can be considered no mere PR confection. The pair genuinely have plenty to be thankful to each other for.

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The Irish billionaire served up plenty of juicy nuggets in a rare interview yesterday. Desmond delights in Celtic as an emotional investment that doubles up as an outlet to demonstrate his acumen isn’t reliant on largesse. In Lennon, that finds its expression.

The 70-year-old bought into Celtic a quarter of a century ago and has said this shareholding is the only one within his portfolio with which he would not part. He wants to set up Celtic as an exemplar in the game that proves success can be secured without profitability being sacrificed.

Turning to Lennon again when Brendan Rodgers departed for Leicester City in February 2019 was inevitably derided as the club taking the cheap option. The fact that Celtic have scooped up every domestic honour in the year and a half since allows Desmond vindication over the reappointment of a Lennon who, he said, “you underestimate at your peril”. He spoke of him “being a work in progress” following his first management stint from 2010 to 2014 wherein Desmond said the club “sort-of tutored” him and he made mistakes “none of which were [sic] fatal”.

“We took him back in even though some of the fans thought it was a retrograde step... and he has repaid our belief in him,” Desmond told the Athletic.

Lennon doesn’t pretend he is not in Desmond’s debt. And though the businessman is a divisive figure among supporters who see him as an absentee landlord, primarily concerned with the bottom line and wealthy through benefitting from a neoliberalism they instinctively reject, Lennon believes Celtic have a debt to Desmond too. Primarily because of how much he cares about their football club. A fact that doesn’t always make their regular conversations easy going.

“He’s been so good to me, and for me,” the manager said. “We do talk on a regular basis, so he’s got his finger on the pulse of the club and the team. We talk at length the day before a game or we analyse the game now and again. He made it clear and we didn’t shy away from it, that he didn’t think the performance against Ross County [last weekend] was good.

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“If you are open and honest with Dermot and straight, you get rewarded for that. He’s a very intelligent man and he’s done unbelievable things for the club. If you have him as a support or an ear then it gives you a lot of comfort, particularly in a heavily pressurised job like this.

“[Our open lines of communication] have been forged over a long time. I’ve been at the club 20 years, I was manager here for four years in my first period and now I’m into my third season.

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“It’s not as if there’s a comfort there, he keeps you on your toes. He likes high standards and he likes high standards of performance from the players and staff here. He doesn’t make unrealistic demands of you or unrealistic expectations. If you go through a bad period he’s the first one to pick up the phone and talk to you and support you, and likewise, when we have great results he’s there to congratulate you. If there’s something that he’s not happy with then we talk it through and look to improve on it.

“Listen, he’s a massive Celtic fan, first and foremost. He has just transformed the image and reputation of the club alongside the people he has hired in the top positions of the club. What he has done has been magnificent and he loves the club, he loves the players and he loves going to the games whenever he can.

“He was in Rome last year to see us win there and the League Cup final. He’s a huge Celtic fan and just wants what is best for the club. He’s constantly evolving the club in what he sees the club being in five, or ten or 15 years time. If and when he does leave at whatever stage he wants to, his legacy will forever be enshrined in the club’s history.”

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